The words "manager" and "leader" are interchangeable to many people, but the difference in the two roles becomes glaring when one moves into higher levels of responsibility within an organization. Managers traditionally do just that — manage teams, resources, timelines, budgets, etc. — which requires skills that are not easy to learn. Leaders, on the other hand, are more focused on motivating and influencing others to achieve a goal, usually based on a common vision.
Leaders can — and, at times, do — manage, but it may not necessarily be their strongest skill. Conversely, managers often struggle with stepping into the leader role because true leadership is less about the “what” and “how” of completing a project and more about the “why” and the “who” driving the project itself. Managers who excel at getting things done often struggle when elevated into senior leadership roles because they aren’t prepared for the mindset shift required to step away from the comfort zone of more tactical functions.
While both managers and leaders are important, they are not the same. Those with goals to reach senior leadership roles want to focus on three key areas to level up from manager to leader.
"Vision" and "strategy" are used so much in leadership development that they can elicit eye-rolls and groans in many a meeting. The reality is that successful leaders are able to see beyond the tasks at hand and drive results to achieve long-term goals.
For some managers, it can be difficult to embrace what seems like illogical or unnecessary efforts in the short term because they are not able to see the broader vision.
As a manager, learn to step back and ask questions to understand why certain initiatives are undertaken and how they tie to broader strategic objectives. Also, don’t be afraid to speak up when you notice clear misalignments with strategy when executing on current projects. Use your practical knowledge as an advantage to ensure that common sense isn’t being sacrificed for the allure of sweeping landscapes of innovation.
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Managers are used to a certain amount of control to accomplish tasks. Leaders are often required to rely more on influence and relationships to get things done because they often do not have direct control over all the functions and teams needed to achieve broader initiatives. Managers moving into senior leadership need to release their more directive style and work on building relationships with both internal and external stakeholders to facilitate more collaborative partnerships to reach desired outcomes on projects. Titles do not make successful leaders — strong relationships and effective communication are true cornerstones of leadership.
Showing up and doing the work is only part of the equation when it comes to being a leader. You must also exhibit qualities that motivate people to actually follow your lead.
Presence is perhaps the most intangible of all the intangibles associated with being a leader. We have all met people who are amazing at their jobs, but you wouldn’t follow their lead to the breakroom, let alone into a major companywide initiative. The path to developing your leadership presence begins with a deep and perhaps humbling assessment of yourself. Start by answering the following questions:
• What are my core values, both personally and professionally?
• What motivates me to be a leader?
• How do I add value to the organization?
• What unique qualities do I possess that can help me lead others?
As you begin to better understand how you see yourself, you want to also find out how others perceive you as a leader by using tools such as 360 assessments and soliciting feedback from your own leaders, peers and staff. Be prepared for some potentially uncomfortable conversations, but know that at the end of the process, you will be equipped with valuable information that will empower you to grow into the type of leader you want to become.
Leaders are sometimes born, but they are more often made. They set the intention to develop the skills and self-awareness that inspire others to work and collaborate with them to achieve mutually desired outcomes with high performance and positive results.